As the clouds rolled in we saw a father bent down with finger pointing at his (roughly) 9 year old son. No one was on the field, the cones and field markers were packed and gone. He yelled and pointed, the displeasure with his so evident. The boy wasn’t as tall as the dad’s armpits, who was bent over, pointing at the boy, the anger and displeasure clear – Anger about pee wee football with a nine year old who is still 4 years from puberty.
Anger about pee wee football. A game for kids. (Weren’t games supposed to be for fun?)
Shocked, we pulled to the side of the road and watched. Another car pulled off to do the same. We were heartbroken for this small lone boy, known to us only as ‘number 8′. His helmet looked like a big white pumpkin on a small body. His shoulder pads looked to heavy, manly instruments suited on a boy. The biblical image of the boy David trying on King Saul’s armor came to mind. Now, this boy was dodging a ruler’s verbal spears too.
And then it started to rain. The boys head dropped and his shoulders sunk. The father was unmoved, his displeasure remained clear, displeasure with his 9 year old son … and his performance … in a game … of pee wee football. We looked to the dad’s family SUV parked nearby, the decal on the back window read “Proud Parent.”
Sadly, we’ve all seen similar scenes in America. It’s no wonder older teens walk away from varsity sports on the high school campus. We’ve taken the fun out of playing the game and replaced with some performance expectation heaped on children way before it’s necessary. Should we have traveling baseball teams for kids under 13? So many kids have played sports for so long by the time they’re 16 that, once they get their driver’s license, they’ve had enough of the pressure from parents and coaches, the year-’round commitment required for ‘sports’ any more (that take the fun out of it), and they are gone.
Why can’t it be fun to be a kid? Why do fathers and mothers feel they have to live vicariously through their son or daughter’s success in sports, or their popularity and dating, or in their success in fine arts? THAT should be a component of helping parents process their own adolescence and insecurities. THAT would be a great discussion point for programs designed to help families.
Let’s push a bit further for those of us who lead youth work. Is it fun to be a teen in our youth group? Or, do we push teens in similar ways toward goals like performance, success, and achievement? Do we value flashy skills over integrity, character, and having a Christlike heart within a loving community? Do teens wish they were out from under the ‘youth group pressure’ by the time they’re 16 because of all of the time demands and expectations we have for their ‘performance’?
I feel bad for ‘number 8′ and all of the other ‘number 8′s’ out there who have to endure a parent who points fingers, provokes, and is pushing their son or daughter away. High school sports doesn’t seem beneficial to me sometimes. Some schools get it right. My kids’ school does. Others do, I know. But many don’t.
And I feel bad for any ‘number 8′ in my youth ministry who may have felt similar pressure or expectation.
Have you seen many kids having fun playing high school sports? I’d love to hear your comments. In the meantime, I’m challenged by the idea of performance pressure within youth groups and will continue to seek more perspectives on that as well. So, I welcome your comment, critique, and contribution.